Panasonic vows to cut cobalt from batteries, but industry watchers aren’t concerned
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Japanese electronics giant Panasonic is the latest to declare it will reduce the use of cobalt in its batteries.
The news comes less than a month after Tesla boss Elon Musk said he was phasing out the use of cobalt in the batteries used in his electric vehicles.
Panasonic batteries are used in Tesla’s Model 3 sedan.
The battery maker is now reportedly aiming to “achieve zero usage in the near future” and has already begun the process of cutting cobalt from its batteries.
But other industry commentators remain unfazed by the comments and still expect strong growth in the demand for cobalt.
Electric car makers are focusing on two battery technologies: nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA), which has been favoured by Tesla, and nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM).
The NCM chemistry is much more popular among Tesla’s rivals.
Cobalt will remain a key battery metal
Substitution in batteries is unlikely in the near-term, according to New World Cobalt boss Mike Haynes, because of its importance in preventing things from blowing up.
“People don’t want their iPhones, their laptops and indeed their electric vehicles bursting into flames,” he told investors at this week’s Resources Rising Stars conference in Queensland’s Gold Coast.
“To stabilise those batteries you need cobalt. So as much as there is talk about substituting, I think in the near-term it is unlikely that there is going to be a wholesale substitution of cobalt.”
Cobalt is also key to a fast recharge and higher discharge voltage.
The International Energy Agency expects a “rapid ramp-up in the demand of cobalt and lithium”.
Despite the recent comments from Telsa and Panasonic, supply of cobalt was “especially critical” due to the concentration of mining and refining facilities in a handful of countries”, according to a landmark report released overnight the global energy agency.
Ongoing developments in reducing the cobalt content in batteries was aimed at higher energy and power density — at the expense of “lower thermal stability”.
But even accounting for these efforts, cobalt demand in electric vehicles was expected to be 10 to 25 times higher than current levels by 2030.
Up to 125 million electric cars are expected to be on roads around the world by 2030 compared to 3 million cars last year, according to the energy agency.
This will see cobalt demand from electric vehicles alone rise to around 300,000 tonnes.
The IEA says enabling a smooth transition to electric mobility requires ensuring a stable supply of cobalt at moderate prices.
The agency urged regulators to “reduce uncertainties on electric vehicle uptake” to encourage “investment in extraction capacity and the emergence of contractual arrangements spanning longer periods of time”.